“A man’s dying is more the survivors’ affair than his own.”
– Thomas Mann
Our bus struck and killed a woman tonight. The bus driver was making a u-turn back onto the highway after a meal break in Quang Tri province, Vietnam en route to Hanoi from Hue. The woman’s moped slammed into the side. She probably survived the impact, but our driver, perhaps thinking we had hit the concrete partition, backed up, crushing the woman and her scooter underneath.
Strangers rushed to offer assistance, but the solemn looks coupled with the lack of action pretty much said it all.
She was gone.
As the gathering crowd obscured her body from view, the passengers, silent until now save for the initial gasps of horror, began piecing together what had just happened. That’s when someone carried out the boy. In the rush to help the woman, they had failed to notice her son, still under the bus – unconscious, but still breathing. They rushed him away on the back of a scooter. No gurneys or neck braces or ambulances here I’m afraid.
About 20 minutes after the accident, the strangers picked up the woman, and placed her in the back of a taxi. Our bus driver went with her. Forty minutes later the police finally arrived, comically measuring and moving pieces of the wreckage. Then, like an afterthought, remembering to take photos.
An hour passed and our driver, his shirt stained with blood, returned to face the police. A few minutes into the questioning, a Dutch passenger approached the driver, handing him a cell phone. “Can you talk to her?” he asked. “It’s the travel agent. I’m trying to get a refund on the tour I booked.”
Tactfulness is a notion lost on idiots. A dead mother and wounded child just outside his window, and he’s worried about making his connection.
Later while waiting inside the bus, the Dutch passenger would say, “Why did this have to happen to us?” I thought that was probably a more appropriate question for the woman’s family to be asking. But there he was, complaining like a champ.
Yes, we would be delayed. Yes, we would eventually have to stand on the side of the road flagging down buses to ferry us the rest of the way. But in the grand scheme of things, this delay was minor. It was a blip.
A woman died here tonight. And for at least one person on that bus, that was inconvenient. And that makes me sad.
You will be faced with all sorts of inconveniences each and every spin around that great big glorious sun. How you deal with those inconveniences speaks to your character. Especially in times of trauma. And if your first thoughts turn to ticket refunds and missed connections instead of gratitude that you were not hurt, or prayer for that little boy, you are missing the boat completely.
Life is so fleeting, so temporary. And there are no guarantees any one of us will make it through the night.
The accident made me appreciate life even that much more. And how blessed I am to be able to do what I’m doing right now, at this very moment.
I didn’t take any pictures that night. Because like the actions of the Dutchman, I didn’t think it was appropriate. I’ll always have it in my head though. So will the other passengers – the Americans, the Korean, the Australian, the Japanese, and of course the Vietnamese — who were thoughtful, respectful, and rose above the tendency to complain. The Dutchman? I don’t think he had much in his head to begin with.